Table of Contents
Welcome to the best glossary of guitar terms, where you’ll learn every essential guitar term.
Guitar Terms A
Action on a guitar defines the height of the strings/ how far away the strings are from the fretboard.
Alternate picking is a picking hand technique where you consistently alternate between upstrokes and downstrokes.
An alternate tuning is anything that is different from the standard tuning on guitar.
Your attack on guitar defines how hard you pick/pluck the strings with the picking hand.
An arpeggio on guitar or any instrument is a chord that is broken down and played one note at a time, rather than harmonizing the notes.
Guitar Terms B
A bend on guitar is a fretting hand technique. This is the act of moving a note out of pitch by pulling/bending a note up or down.
The bridge is the piece of a guitar’s body that holds the strings in place.
The body of the guitar is the largest part of the guitar, which connects to the fretboard, and is the part of the guitar where your picking hand will sit.
An acoustic guitar body usually has a guitar sound hole, which amplifies the acoustic guitar’s sound.
However, an electric guitar body uses pickups in order to amplify it’s sound, but requires an amplifier to do so.
Guitar Terms C
A capo is a fretboard tool that sits across a single fret, and acts as a bar. This allows you to use this bar as your open strings, thus making it easy to change pitch, and use open chords in this new key.
A chord on guitar, or any other instrument is a group of 3 or more notes played harmoniously (which means at the same time).
Here are some articles related to chords.
A chord diagram shows you how to play a chord. It generally shows the fret numbers for each string, the fingers to play those frets with, and the name of the chord.
A chord progression is a group of chords played over and over again.
A chord progression is usually derived from a scale. For example, the diatonic triads in C Major are:
C Maj – D Min – E Min – F Maj – G Maj – A Min – B Dim
Since these chords are derived from the C Major scale, they are often used together. Some popular chord progressions with these chords are:
C Maj – F Maj – G Maj
C Maj – A Min – D Min – G Maj
These chords in Western music theory are defined using numerals.
Here is an incredible guide to how it works! https://appliedguitartheory.com/lessons/guitar-number-system-chord-progressions/
Guitar Terms D
A distorted guitar tone is the opposite of a clean guitar tone.
Distorted tones are usually high in gain and literally “distort” the notes/ sounds being made by the guitar.
Heavily distorted tones are most commonly heard in most genres of rock music and metal.
You can hear light amounts of distortion used in most genres of music, though.
A downstroke on guitar is simply plucking down on the guitar string(s).
Downstrokes are often used in metal and rock guitar to emphasize/ strongly attack notes and chords.
Drop D Tuning
Drop D Tuning is arguably the most common/popular alternate tuning for the guitar.
You simply drop your low E string down a whole step to D. This results in Drop D.
Guitar Terms E
Economy picking is the act of following the economy of motion with the picking hand. This simply means that if you end with a downstroke or upstroke on one string, you will move to the next string with that same stroke you ended with (downstroke + downstroke), rather than alternating to the opposite pick stroke (downstroke + upstroke).
The most commonly used form of economy picking is sweep picking.
An effects pedal plugs into your amplifier and allows you to add effects to your notes.
Some popular effects are:
An electric guitar is simply a guitar that can plug into an amplifier.
Guitar Terms F
Fanned frets allow lower strings to have more length than the higher strings.
Fingerstyle is a picking style that only involves your fingers, and no guitar pick.
Fingerstyle guitar is often associated with PIMA.
Finger picks are picks that clip onto your picking hand fingers.
These picks are often used for travis picking, as popularized by Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.
Finger picks are also used by banjo players.
A flanger pedal takes two of the same audio signals and plays them simultaneously, but playss one of the signals at a slower speed.
Fuzz pedals distort your guitar tone and make a “fuzzy” sound, often associated with guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Jack White.
The fretboard, also called the fingerboard, is the part of the neck which contains frets. This is where you play notes.
Guitar Terms G
Ghost notes are notes that are muted with the left hand and have no identifiable sound/pitch. That means that this pitch is a “ghost”.
A gig is a musician’s term for a concert.
Your guitar cable connects your electric guitar to an amplifier.
These cables are also used to string pedals together.
Guitar Theory/ Music Theory
Guitar theory refers to music theory that is universal/applies to all other instruments, but also refers to music theory that is exclusive to guitar as an instrument.
Music theory as whole is a means of communicating how music works. The type of music theory you are most likely familiar with is Western music theory.
Theory can basically be broken down into 3 main categories: rhythm, melody, and harmony.
Here is a more in-depth article on guitar theory.
Guitar pro is popular software used to make tablature.
Guitar Terms H
A half-step is the movement from one note up to a minor 2nd. On guitar, this is the act of moving from one fret up to the next fret.
Example: The movement from G-G# is a half-step.
A hammer on happens when you play a note with your fretting hand without picking the note. This creates a “hammer” motion.
Hammer-ons are the main technique used for playing legato.
A harmonizer pedal creates a harmony.
It does this by taking the note that you are playing, and playing the target interval (as set on your pedal) at the same time. This creates the harmony!
Guitar Terms I
An interval defines the space/distance between one note and the next note.
Understanding intervals means that you understand the relationships between notes.
Here is an in-depth article on intervals: https://www.jazzguitar.be/blog/guitar-intervals/
Intonation refers to how accurately each fret on your guitar is in tune relative to your open strings. This is called pitch accuracy.
A chord inversion happens when you take a group of notes and rearrange the intervals, but the chord is still the same.
For example, instead of playing: Root-3rd-5th, you could play the next inversion: 3rd-5th-Root
Guitar Terms L
Legato happens when you move from one note to the next note without any sort of mute/rest/pause.
Technically speaking the only way to play legato on guitar is by using hammer-ons. However, some guitarists consider pull-offs to be legato as well.
Some popular guitar players that use legato well are:
- Joe Satriani
- Guthrie Govan
- Allan Holdsworth
- Tom Quayle
- Brett Garsed
A lick is simply a phrase. You can treat a lick like a sentence, or a part of your musical vocabulary.
A looper pedal can record whatever you’re playing, and play it over and over repeatedly.
Lead guitar is the guitar part that is responsible for licks, solos, and melody lines.
You can play lead guitar and rhythm guitar at the same time, but when you switch to the lead, you are usually no longer accompanying the rhythm section.
Guitar Terms M
A metronome is a tool that let’s you set a beat at a specific tempo.
You’ll use a metronome to practice rhythm.
Modes are scales derived from a scale. You create modes by emphasizing a particular note/notes in a scale, and you can determine the mode by the chords you are playing against.
Multiscale guitars have multiple scale lengths.
Usually, the high strings have a short scale length, and the low strings have a longer scale length.
These scale length differences make the guitar easier to play, and easier to maintain.
Guitar Terms N
A noise gate pedal sets a noise threshold on your amplifier, which helps to eliminate unnecessary sound.
Guitar Terms O
An octave happens when you go from a note to the same note in the next highest pitch. (exl: E3-E4)
This is a very simple definition of an octave. The classically correct definition is a little more complex.
An octave pedal takes the note that you are playing and instantly changes it to it’s next octave.
An open guitar is a chord that has open strings.
Open tunings are tunings based off of chords, particularly popular open chords, such as open A Major or open E Major.
An overdrive pedal instantly sends your guitar into a high gain signal.
This signal is determined by the settings on the pedal.
Guitar Terms P
Palm muting is a picking hand technique where you place your palm/the side of your hand on the strings to mute the notes being played. This is usually done at the point where the bridge meets the strings.
A passing tone is generally a chromatic note (not in scale or harmony) used to transition from one note in your scale, to the next note in your scale.
A pentatonic scale is a 5 note scale.
Penta + Tonic = Pentatonic (5 notes)
The most commonly used pentatonic scale on guitar is the minor pentatonic scale.
PIMA is a fingerstyle system for guitar. This system directs your picking hand by indicating what fingers to use by showing you a letter for each finger.
P= Thumb I= Index M= Middle A= Ring
The letters come from Spanish and stand for:
Pick or Plectrum
A guitar pick, also called a plectrum, is something you hold and pick the strings with.
Pinch harmonics are artificial harmonics created with the picking hand by striking the string with the flesh of your thumb and the guitar pick at the exact same time.
A musical pitch defines how high or low a note/sound is.
Pitch Shifter Pedal
A pitch shifter pedal instantly changes the pitch of your note.
This pitch shift is determined by the pedal settings.
A power chord is a root and a fifth.
Power chords are usually played on the E, A, and D strings, and are usually used in rock and metal guitar.
Sometimes the root note’s octave is added to the chord to gain a “bigger” sound.
You can also put the 5th interval on the string above the root note, and this is called an inverted power chord.
A pull-off happens when a finger on your fretting hand is pulled downward and let go, which essentially plucks the note behind the finger doing the pull-off.
Pickups are essentially the microphones for the guitar, and they’re usually magnetic. They pick up the string vibrations and convert those vibrations into sound.
Guitar Terms R
Rhythm is used to understand how timing works in music.
The three pillars of rhythm are tempo, time signatures, and note types.
A guitar riff is a rhythmic phrase that repeats itself.
A root note is the first note in a scale or chord formula, and it defines that scale or chord.
Guitar Terms S
A musical scale is a group of notes organized from the root note up to the highest interval that precedes the octave.
A guitar’s scale length refers to the length between the guitar’s nut and bridge.
A setup is part of basic guitar maintenance that determines how well your guitar will play.
Shredding is an advanced style of lead guitar. Shredding usually consists of fast playing and advanced techniques, such as tapping and sweep picking.
A slide allows your fretting hand to sit on top of the strings and move around in a sliding motion. This lets you make sounds that you couldn’t normally make, such as wide vibrato.
Slides are often used in blues guitar.
A slide happens when you continue to put pressure on the string while moving from your starting note to the next note. This movement is done with a single finger.
Standard tuning is the universal tuning used for guitar.
From the top string to the bottom string, guitar is tuned: E-A-D-G-B-E
A stompbox refers to a guitar pedal that you control with your foot.
It also refers to a percussive, small box that you can tap to accompany youself.
A strum happens when play thorough all of your strings at the same time. This can be done with your fingers, or with a guitar pick.
Sustain refers to how long a note is held out.
Sweep Picking (76)
Sweep picking is a technique in which you move your picking hand up and down in order to play a group of notes that exist on one string at a time.
Sweep picking is a sub-technique of economy picking.
Guitar Terms T
Tablature (Guitar Tablature)
Guitar Tablature, tab for short, is a form of musical notation that is exclusive to stringed instruments, particularly guitar, bass, banjo, and mandolin.
Guitar tapping is a guitar technique in which you use your picking hand to perform a hammer-on.
Tremolo is an effect that moves your note in and out of pitch at a quick pace.
Tremolo bars, also called whammy bars, allow you to move a note in out of pitch with your picking hand.
Tremolo picking is a fast form of alternate picking, which focuses on one note at a time.
A tuner is an electronic device that helps you tune your guitar.
Guitar Terms U
This happens when you pick a string upward.
Guitar Terms V
Vibrato is a fretting hand technique where you bend a note in and out of pitch at a consistent rate.
Volume guitar pedals adjust your volume.
This is a technique where you make your volume louder or softer consistently.
Guitar Terms W
The slang term for tremolo bar.
A guitar pedal that emulates the sound of a whammy bar.
A whole note is held for 4 beats.
A whole step is a 2 fret movement up or down on the guitar.
Guitar Terms X
X (Guitar Tab)
X Represents a muted note in guitar tablature.